U.S. Travel

Snippets from the RoadU.S. Travel

AMERICAN AIRLINES IS QUITE FINE

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I want to give a shout-out to American Airlines.  They have upped their game in terms of cross-country routes (LAX to Philly, NY, etc).  We flew to Philadelphia on a Friday in August (i.e., the height of summer tourism season) and the flight got to our destination early.  Our exit row seats were two on the side and very spacious.  The business class configuration is terrific but I would only do that if my upgrade request came through.  I don’t like to use miles for domestic flights, preferring to save them for the long international flights.  For the LAX return, we left Cincinnati for Chicago with a plane change at ORD.  Again, on-time departure and early arrival plus our gate was clear.

 

I read all the horror stories about cancelled flights and other nightmares. No doubt, that could be my tale at any time. Did you hear the one about the flight leaving Peru that had multiple delays over the course of THREE DAYS?   That was indeed the perfect storm of ineptness and things beyond one’s control.  But fortunately that is a very rare occurrence.

The takeaway is this:  When the news or experience is good, let it be known!

 

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Snippets from the RoadU.S. Travel

WE MUST NEVER FORGET …

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One might think that incorporating a visit to a somber site while on a fun road trip might be counter-intuitive, but I think it’s of utmost importance.

SHANKSVILLE, PA

On our recent baseball trip to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, we took a side trip somewhat out of our way in order to visit the Flight 93 Memorial site in Shanksville, PA.  To say that this site is literally “in the middle of nowhere” is not an exaggeration.  It is a beautiful place of rolling green hills in the Allegheny Mountains off the main interstate between Philly and Pittsburgh.

The weather was somber — dark clouds with some rain and plenty of lightning —  as we walked the vast space.  The memorial is under the auspices of the U.S. National Park Service.  The design of the site allows visitors to view the crash site from a flat ridge above the area.  One can also drive to the site and walk the length of the debris field, some quarter of a mile long.   There is one long wall displaying the names of each victim.  Their stories are also available elsewhere at the site.

Of the four hijacked flights, Flight 93 will forever be the most personal.  It is widely thought the flight was on a path to either the Capitol building or White House.  The hubby and I had entered the U.S. Capitol that morning just after 9am, and were hastily evacuated not long after Flight 77 hit the Pentagon.  So in my heart of hearts,  I will forever owe the heroes of that downed Flight 93 for saving countless lives while sacrificing their own.

 

“A common field one day. A field of honor forever.”

SQUIRREL HILL

The next day while in Pittsburgh, we went to Tree of Life Synagogue.  We attempted to meet with the Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, but regrettably the timing did not work out.  We were at least able to see the synagogue, which is closed, and that somehow provided a connection to the community.  Evidence of the “Stronger Together” message was seen all around the area.

 

 

My “Snippet from the Road” is this:  take some time out of your travels and pay tribute to the fallen.  Pearl Harbor, Oklahoma City Memorial, Valley Forge, 9/11 Memorial and sadly many more.  My sense of gratitude has only increased after these visits.

Things I LoveU.S. Travel

ROAD TRIP COMBINES AMERICA’S FAVORITE PASTIME

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Want to know an outstanding way to combine seeing the USA and enjoying America’s favorite pastime?  Get out on the road and visit ballparks! (Click HERE for last year’s trip) It’s relatively inexpensive, easy to plan and navigate and you’ll see and do things you wouldn’t normally do without investing a bit of time.

A three-stadium baseball trip was great fun notwithstanding the typical hot and humid weather.  The trip began in Philadelphia and continued on to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and a visit with a great friend from LA now living in Louisville, KY (post to follow).  One needs to allow two days in each city in case a game is rained out.  This being August in the east/midwest, there’s a high probability of that.  About two hours prior to game time in Cincinnati, we were driving to our hotel in a blinding deluge.  The rain stopped, the skies cleared for the most part and the game started on time.

Son Sam was also in Philly for a wedding

I grew up as a devoted LA sports fan, just not of baseball.  It was the original LA Rams, Lakers and, of course, UCLA basketball where my dad played.  Baseball is probably my favorite now which is why I enjoy visiting so many stadiums.  And it’s a shared family pastime, which is a big bonus.  I hardly have the encyclopedic memory of particular games and plays possessed by both the hubby and son, but I can hold my own.  Below is the list of the stadiums I’ve been to so far.  Some are older and/or have been renamed (i.e., US Cellular is now Guaranteed Rate Field).  Two big ones are missing:  Cleveland’s Progressive Field and Detroit’s Comerica Park (e.t.a. Summer 2020).  Cleveland was a near miss in 2012 due to a rain-out but at least I got to see the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame instead.

PHILLY:

Citizens Bank Park is located in what’s called the South Philadelphia Sports Complex.  We walked out of our hotel in downtown and took the Broad Street Line to the last stop.  From there it is a haven for sports lovers — Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, 76’ers and even the Lacrosse team — all in view.  Easy access, ride-share vehicles and taxis just waiting to be hailed if the train isn’t for you.  Vendors sell water, pretzels and peanuts on the way to the stadium.  All that is needed is more Phillies fans to fill the seats.  Oh, and the choice of concessions?  Don’t get me started on how our beloved  Dodger Stadium pales in comparison.

Citizens Bank Park

PITTSBURGH:

PNC Park is widely favored by baseball lovers as America’s best stadium.  It is walkable from the downtown area, has spectacular views from most every seat, is right at the junction where three rivers meet and provides an outstanding fan experience.  Can’t beat that.  It would be hard to find anything about which to critique the venue, therefore it deserves two photos!

View from our seats
PNC PARK

CINCINNATI

Great American Ball Park is also located in the heart of the city.  Again, few fans.  We walked up to the box office at game time and had seats behind home plate at a very reasonable price.  The stadium even has underground parking!  We left the game and walked across the street where there were lots of restaurants to choose from.

GREAT AMERICAN BALL PARK — the Great American Insurance Co. building is in the background.

The concession stands were a bit lacking — no mustard anywhere.  Fortunately a kind person brought me a side order ..

Other trip highlights will be posted in Snippets from the Road.  Here’s a few fun photos from the road trip including Philly foods.  Can we just talk about how outstanding ice cream is in this part of the country?  Died and gone to Bassetts heaven lower left; pies at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market (genius idea to sell half pies!); a Philly cheese steak of course.

Below:  Philly, standing in the shadow of two giants; with Columbus friends Todd Applebaum and Larry Levine for impromptu lunch at Giuseppe’s as we drove through the area; WE WANT A RING TOO …  but with blue sapphires!  This one belongs to a scout for the Cubs attending a game.

I would be remiss in not thanking son Sam for selecting my new phone (OnePlus), which was used to take all of the photos contained here ..

Things You Should KnowTo-Do ListU.S. TravelWining/Dining

BACKYARD FUN

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“Backyard” can have lots of different meanings.  Given the relatively “inclement” weather we’re experiencing in So Cal (we’ve already surpassed our average annual rainfall!), in this case “backyard” is a euphemism for Los Angeles in general — i.e., having fun locally by enjoying a couple of new adventures.

The first was attending the Travel & Adventure Show at the LA Convention Center.  This is a two-day affair with seminars and lots of exhibitors, both international and domestic.  I invited a friend to go with me and pre-registered online.  Easy.

Gorgeous clear skies!

The biggest debate was where should we have lunch? Before or after the show?  Downtown LA (DTLA) has endless options and there were lots of cultural pockets en route from our Beverly Hills meeting place.  We remarkably ruled out Langer’s (DTLA-adjacent with simply THE BEST pastrami sandwich) and kept on with “how about (insert type of food)???”  We also didn’t want to park multiple times. What to do …?

During the drive while my friend Sandra was on a business call, I was observing restaurant signs and got a craving for Korean BBQ.  I pulled over to search Google for nearby places and was elated to discover we were just 3 minutes from Park’s BBQ, arguably the best in all of LA.  I say “arguably” because it’s all in the palate of the beholder.  But this is a place I’ve long wanted to try.

Parks is just north of Olympic Boulevard on S. Vermont in the heart of Koreatown.  The area traffic is always heavy but the restaurant is well marked.  There is a free-of-charge valet (tips welcome) so that made it easy.  It was before noon and the place was already bustling.  And you know what is commonly said about judging an ethic-food place?  Well, let’s just say we were the only non-Asians dining there.

All the sides and condiments first

Ever since the hubby’s and my 2013 trip to Seoul, I have loved Korean culture and food.  The problem is there’s top choices of sushi and Thai food in our ‘hood, but almost no Korean.  My efforts haven’t been exactly stellar to seek out different places.  Regardless, back to the meal at hand …

We ordered two a la carte proteins to be grilled at the table: marinated chicken and paper-thin beef, prepared with onions and seasoning.  They were served with a small bowl of rice and lots of different condiments and small sides.   The hardest part was waiting for the server to give us the go to eat!  Diners are not supposed to do the cooking but rather wait until the meats are done.  We impatiently waited for our server (who supervised the grill) to return.

Hurry up and cook!
Delicious with side of rice.
Best part? Scraping the bits off the grill … ask for a fork!

The verdict?  Delicious.  Not inexpensive.  Good quality.  Lots of flavors to try.  And if you’re into spicy, you’re definitely in the right place.  I now will book a return visit with my Foodies group (executive women gathering to try different restaurants along with socializing) and I’m looking forward to that.

As for the show, if you’ve been to one convention … The best takeaway for me was collecting guides to study for the upcoming trip to SE Asia (Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Kuala Lumpur).   For the most part,the show’s exhibitors were largely promoting group tour travel and cruises.  For my friend Sandra, it was the exhibit from Billings, MT, with lots of suggestions on doing a road trip encompassing Yellowstone Park.  Particularly good info there.

One of the exhibitors .. who knew?

 

With my adventurous friend, Sandra Heller

This was a fun and somewhat spur-of-the-moment outing in our city — a place so vast that these types of experiences are virtually endless — and right in your own backyard.

Things I LoveTo-Do ListU.S. TravelWining/Dining

ELEVEN MADISON PARK: TRULY A WORLD-CLASS RESTAURANT

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When one considers dining at a world-class establishment, a number of thoughts come to mind:  1) How much is it?  2) Can I get a booking?  3) What if it’s not worth it?

Reservations open on the first day of the month preceding your desired date. For me, that meant a note to self:  Call EMP on 12.1.18 for a reservation on 1.8.19.  That worked; #2 was done.  As for #1, I’ll just say it’s pricey for sure. Full payment (including gratuity) is required at the time the booking is made.  There’s no additional tipping; more about that later.  So alcohol is what’s due at the end of the meal.  As for #3, “worth” is a subjective term.  Let’s just say any expectation was more than exceeded.  Their three Michelin Stars and top-of-the-list ranking on the World’s Best list are well deserved.

A week prior to our reservation, I received a lengthy email from my “person” who would greet us at the front desk.  She had a number of inquiries — are we celebrating anything; food allergies; anything else they should know.  This advance communication was really impressive.  I wrote a lengthy reply with details about our trip to NY.  I also requested the opportunity to meet the proprietors Chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara (who worked together at the original EMP and ultimately bought out founder Danny Meyer).  Could we see the kitchen was a big request.  Lastly, I stressed NO CILANTRO!  Laura and I had several exchanges so that when we finally met, a warmth had already been established followed by hugs.

The building that houses EMP is a registered historical landmark, originally built in 1906 in art deco style.  The restaurant seats about 80 (close to max for a Michelin restaurant) but is cavernous inside due to high ceilings and enormous windows looking out on Madison Park.   Tables are generously proportioned; the hubby and I sat side-by-side on a banquette to watch all the action.   Bar seating is also available with a different menu featuring fewer courses.

The wine list is vast — we learned there are 21,000 bottles on the premises with seven full-time sommeliers.  There is a wine room currently under construction for future dining opportunities.  Our young friend Watson looked barely old enough to be serving alcohol, let alone be an accomplished somm.  A Patrick Corbineau Cab Franc was selected  (we enjoyed a different varietal of his the previous night at Daniel).  Watson employed a spectacular decanting method (at our request) usually reserved for much older bottles and port in particular where there is concern the cork might be bad.  The neck of the bottle is removed, sealed with wax (no jagged edges!) and then given to guests in an acrylic case. Here’s a video of this unique and amazing process:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpOz1PCTpa4

We had a few course choices (fish, meat, primary dessert), but otherwise dishes were presented one after another in remarkable vessels obviously designed just so.  They were rich thus justifiably on the small side which was just fine as the course count was high by the end.  Photos and descriptions (clockwise from upper left) are neither in the order eaten nor complete as one can only cover so much …

Lobster; Fennel Salad; Black Truffle Souffle with Leek and Potato; Scallop
Veal with Bitter Greens and Pear; Striped Bass with Shitake Mushrooms; Roasted Pumpkin; Glazed Duck with Napa Cabbage/Pear

Of the numerous aspects that made this experience stand out, I’ll cite two.  Midway through the dinner, a lovely woman from “Guest Relations” approached our table and asked if we were ready to tour the kitchen.  We were escorted through an entrance leading to a vast space (guessing about 2,000 sf) of gleaming surfaces, smiling staff bustling about as we tried not to interfere.   A fun and brief quiz was given as to the main ingredient of three apple drinks made before us (allspice, coriander and one other).  We then chatted with Chef de Cuisine Brian Lockwood who seemed unphased engaging us while overseeing his massive staff.  After the visit we were escorted out a different door and back to our table.  It was extraordinary.

At the apple tasting station and Chef Lockwood keeping a watch over his shoulder. The pastry station can also be seen.

The second standout was this:  We left after 3.5 hours in order to have a nightcap with a dear friend in town, taking with us some parting gifts but not the menu.  I was contacted by EMP that night to inquire where we were staying (and for how long) so they could messenger the menu to our hotel before we departed.  A package was delivered the next morning and, as if that weren’t enough, along with the menus was the aforementioned small case containing the wine bottle top.  Inside the case, EMP returned the gratuity we left when we paid for our wine.  In other words, when they say your gratuity is included in your prepayment, they mean it.  Nothing additional is accepted.  Holy crap.  I even confirmed this with my buddy Laura to make sure this is standard procedure and not special treatment for us before writing this.

How to summarize?  One doesn’t start out dining like this.  If one is considering this experience, I suggest starting out a bit more modestly in the world of fine dining and working up to it.  It’s not for everyone for sure. For all of you who “eat to live,” this experience would surely be a waste.  But for others who can and want to appreciate the extraordinary detail that goes into an exceptional and memorable restaurant experience, I say go.  It’s that simple.  I will certainly forever remember my 65th birthday dinner.

Pumpkin Cake; Apple Brandy and insane Chocolate Pretzel, Apple Donut (my fave!); Chocolate with Chai and Gingerbread
The menu – custom printed with each course, fanfolded into a small tin – and some take-home granola.
Things I LoveTo-Do ListU.S. TravelWining/Dining

Big Trip/Big Apple/BIG Birthday

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I’m guessing that you’ve figured out the what and the where.  As for what constitutes as a BIG birthday, 65 is definitely one.  If you follow this blog, you know we went to Greece (click for previous posts) for the hubby’s recent milestone birthday.  As for mine, the destination was a no-brainer especially since I love cold weather, great restaurants and shopping, with some theater thrown in because it’s part of what one does in NYC.

We flew American to NY and were really impressed with their new 321T plane which is used for transcontinental routes.  Wow — great plane, modern features, tons of leg room in the exit row, outlets and individual screens at each seat.  We got upgraded for our return (15K miles and $70 each); it was fabulous!

Bottom left is exit row en route to NY; other pix are the new business class seats.

It was a “no holds barred” kind of trip (within reason, of course) because a 65th birthday happens just once.  And when one is fortunate enough to have so much, it’s time to both partake and reflect.  The latter comes in a bit.

Loews Regency Hotel on Park and 61st got the where-to-stay nod after much debate (with myself and the internet).  To me this is a very central location for our plans; we had a terrific previous stay; and, the rate didn’t necessitate a second mortgage.  I chose three shows, all purchased in advance:  The Band’s Visit, My Fair Lady and Network (Bryan Cranston!).  Might I add that none of the NY tickets (all Orchestra seats) cost as much as what we paid for Dear Evan Hansen in Los Angeles.  Go figure that one out.

Hotel greetings; Network curtain call; The Band’s Visit; Still lit up in NYC

There’s a few places and restaurants where I’ve always wanted to go but never have on innumerable trips to NYC.  One is Peter Luger Steakhouse.  So many people have so many opinions about the “best steak” place to go, but one doesn’t stay in business for 130+ years with lousy food.  This was on my to-do list so that we high-tailed it to Brooklyn straight away after a fabulous performance of My Fair Lady.  Norbert Leo Butz as Alfred P. Doolittle is worth the price of admission, if only to see him perform “Get Me to the Church on Time.”

Steak, fries, lamb chops and a mountain of whipped cream

It’s also no surprise that where to dine for the actual birthday dinner was given a lot of thought.  Several months ago, I put a reminder in my calendar of the date when January reservations open up for Eleven Madison Park — notoriously difficult to book.  Three Michelin stars and consistently on the World’s Best list.  Parenthetically, if you click on that link, #15 is White Rabbit in Moscow.  Yikes.  We did not think it was so wonderful on our visit there in May.  So lists can certainly be in the eye of the beholder.

Nonetheless, EMP had availability for Jan 8 so with the hubby’s blessing, the booking was made (and pre-paid in full).  The experience was so extraordinary that I’m dedicating a separate post to it (to follow).  The night before was a return trip to Daniel — an absolute favorite and site of my perfect 60th.  The restaurant is consistently grand and Daniel Boulud was in the house.

Below is the custom menu delivered at the end of the night.  I’m always grateful for this so I don’t have to either take notes or try to remember what scrumptious dishes were served!  Inside the box is a small pastry to take with, just in case we needed another bite …

In the kitchen with Chef Boulud and with the wine director lower right.
Five years ago on my 60th.

We got to visit with family as well for Sunday brunch at Les Leopard des Artistes, close to Lincoln Center.  And we had a late night drink with a dear Houston friend who happened to be in NY.  Remarkably this is the second birthday in a row we’ve seen him (see post)!

Regular readers might remember Aunt Judy (blue coat) who traveled to India with us. Her husband, son, daughter & son-in-law made up a lovely group!
We met up with Houstonian Fred Zeidman (left) and his NY friend Gary to close the bar in the wee hours.
First visit to Russ & Daughters Cafe, Lower East Side, for transparent salmon, amazing latkes, egg cream, rugulah and clever wallpaper
Bergdorf’s shoe department, where the hubby’s “dogs” are in repose as I scoured the sales racks (sadly, nothing for me)

As for the reflection part,  I am indeed blessed.  A loving and devoted husband, adult children launched and flourishing in their respective careers, a successful business with loyal clients, seeing the world, two close sisters and great friends.  It’s a lot.  I am so grateful that I trusted my instincts to make the choices in life that resulted in all of this.  No doubt, some luck was involved as well.  But I wake up every day happy in wonderful surroundings.  So life at 65 is pretty, pretty good.